<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> First December newsletter 2013 sec

Sabra Briere

First Ward, City Council
995-3518 (home)
277-6578 (cell)

Coffee wakes some of us up

I usually hold office hours 7:30 to 9 am on Mondays at the Northside Grill. 

The folks at the Northside put up with political talk early in the morning.  If you see me there, please wave, and if you have time, please, join me for coffee and a chat. 


The City Council holds a caucus meeting each Sunday prior to a Council meeting.  This meeting is an opportunity for members of Council to discuss agenda items -- and pending issues -- with each other in public view.  Members of the public are welcome to attend to bring issues to the attention of Council members.  Caucus is held in Council Chambers.

Generally the Caucus starts at 7 pm.

However, on Sunday, December 2, Caucus will be held at 1 pm.  

This meeting was rescheduled to allow members of the Commission on Disabilities to address those members of Council who decide to attend Caucus on the Crosswalk Ordinance.


Dear Neighbors,

The first snowfall didn’t catch me by surprise, but I would have been happy to have roses blooming into December (that’s happened some years).  The alyssum continues to bloom, though – it’s so cold hardy I wonder why I don’t plant it in April.


Parking for Argo Cascades

Many residents living on the north side of town came to a meeting with City staff to discuss parking options for the Argo Canoe Livery and Argo Cascades.  Although the Cascades have been open for only two seasons (2012 and 2013), they have proved to be a major regional destination.  Unfortunately, the Cascades are located in a residential neighborhood, and there’s little room to expand parking within the neighborhood. 

The staff solicited ideas and comments from those attending the meeting.  Staff members took many notes, and will use the comments and notes to help them look for ways to implement some of those ideas.  At a later date, the staff will organize another meeting to review options with the public.

One clear message that the staff heard repeatedly is: please don’t put a parking lot on Longshore Park. 
And this led to a question that’s been asked a lot, but bears repetition: is parking allowed on City parks?  The answer, of course, is a qualified ‘yes’.  The City already has parking – for park use – at Gallup and Argo parks.  There’s a parking lot at Bird Hills; another at Bandemer, one at Furstenburg Nature Area, at Fuller and Vets Parks . . . because many of us drive to the park.  The real question should be – is it OK to use one park to provide parking space for uses at another park? 

I hope you’ll share your ideas on whether one park should be used to provide parking space for another park’s needs.

Housing and affordable housing 

Last year the Council determined that affordable housing was one of the priorities for the Council budget (other priorities set last year include safety services, infrastructure, and economic development).

The Council approved a new funding mechanism (RAD) that would allow private investors to take advantage of the tax benefits for publicly owned low-income housing.  The City recently received over $25 million in tax credits for  Ann Arbor’s housing stock.  The Housing Commission will now sell these tax credits to private investors; this should result in over $21 million in available cash to help renovate and repair the City’s existing public housing.  Public housing residents will use vouchers to pay for their housing in the future.  (Annual income limit for a single person, in 2013, would be $29,000 or less; for a family of four, the income limit would be $41,500 or less.)

At the last Council meeting, the Council unanimously agreed to sell the Old Y lot (on the corner of 5th Avenue and William Street) to Dennis Dahlmann for $5.25 million.  After the City pays the debt on the property (there’s a $3.5 balloon payment due the end of December 2013) any remaining funds will be allocated to affordable housing.

Also at the last Council meeting, the Council approved a change to the ordinance governing the DDA.  This change not only set a cap on future DDA revenues, it also required the DDA to set aside $300,000 for affordable housing.

Not all affordable housing is publicly owned, of course.  Avalon owns and manages a number of properties that are affordable, but not public housing.  There are a variety of cooperatives that remain affordable, too.  And the need for affordable housing grows every year.

I recently met with representatives from MISSION and Camp Take Notice about property on Stone School Road.  This property currently holds one structure; the groups would like to use this structure as a residence (no more than 4 unrelated adults) and to provide office space for MISSION and services to the ‘unhoused’ community.  In the future, they hope the City can find a way to allow them to offer space on this property for those folks living in tents.

On the Agenda

Public Hearings

The Council holds public hearings for several different types of actions.  New and amended ordinances addressing any issue require a public hearing; site plan resolutions also require a public hearing.

The Council will hold a public hearing on whether to repeal the ‘crosswalk’ ordinance.  Over the last three years, quite a bit has been written on pedestrian safety and the effects of the crosswalk ordinance.  Recently I requested the City staff (traffic engineering, police department) to work together to provide some hard data about pedestrian safety before and after the ordinance.  You can see some of that data here, along with an analysis of the effects of the ordinance by The Chronicle.  The entire set of charts contains more comparison data and data from SEMCOG.

The Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition looked at all of the accident reports over the last 5 years (2008 – 2013) and extracted the diagrams, which you may see here.

One of the most interesting studies, to me, was a study on crosswalk indicators done by Western Michigan University.  The study may be found here.  The comparison between HAWK lights and RRFB lights (these are the kind on Plymouth) was particularly telling, especially that section that focused on education.

Other resource documents include: Federal Highway Administration research on crosswalk safetyFederal Highway Administration research on HAWK signals; and Federal Highway Administration research on marked vs. unmarked crosswalk safety.  You can make your own maps and download your own spreadsheets (with lots of details) from Michigan Crash Facts.

I’ve heard quite a few endorsements of the ordinance as written, and quite a few complaints.  One universal concern has been that the City doesn’t effectively enforce the ordinance; another concern relates to engineering (all of the signs marking crosswalks aren’t uniform, for instance) while many folks believe that they understand the ordinance, but their neighbors don’t.  Ordinances are policy – and that policy should lead to solutions that create better engineering, more enforcement and improved education.

Your opportunity to have your voice heard on this issue comes Monday, December 2.  You may also wish to attend Caucus on Sunday, December 1 at 1 pm in City Hall Council Chambers (note: this Caucus was rescheduled; normally, Caucus is at 7 pm).

Other public hearings will be held on the site plan for an addition to the Running Fit building (corner of Liberty and 4th Avenue) and on whether to approve an Industrial Development District for a property at 1901 Ellsworth.


New and amended ordinances require two readings.  A public hearing is held at the time of the second reading.  Public hearings may be held over if the ordinance is postponed at second reading.

Ordinances, second reading

The only ordinance on the agenda for Second Reading is the one that relates to crosswalks.

Ordinances, first reading

The Council will consider whether to rezone a parcel on Traverwood from Office to R4D.  See also the resolution to accept 2.2 acres of land on Traverwood for park land.


Resolutions from Council

Council members may add a resolution to the Agenda at any time prior to 7 pm on the day of a Council meeting; they can also add a resolution during the Council meeting with agreement from 8 members of Council.

On the agenda is a resolution to approve a City policy regarding the removal of on-street metered public parking spaces.  This proposed policy would establish a mechanism for administrative approval of any decrease in the number of on-street metered spaces.

Resolutions from Boards and Commissions

The rules for D1 zoning are different in historic districts.  While height limits remain unchanged, properties in downtown historic districts may not receive any premiums; the intended result is that properties will remain at a lower scale.  The Historic District Commission must approve any new construction or building additions in historic districts; this approval is particularly important in the downtown.  On the agenda is a site plan approval for an addition to a building at the corner of Liberty and 4th Avenue; this three-story addition would create six new residential units.

Neighbors living near Stapp Nature Area and Leslie Golf Course were unhappy earlier this year when First Martin proposed the construction of a new housing development on Traverwood.  First Martin responded to the voiced concerns by reducing the size of the proposed development and offering 2.2 acres of wooded land adjacent to Stapp Nature Area, Leslie Golf Course and the Traverwood Library to the City for park land.  The Council will decide whether to accept this donation.  Connected with – but separate from – this donation is the proposed rezoning of property on Traverwood from Office to R4D.  Not yet on the agenda is a site plan for this project.

Resolutions from Staff

The City Council will consider whether to renew a contract with the University of Michigan for processing parking tickets.  This contract creates a financial arrangement between the City and the University: the City processes all parking tickets; the University reimburses the City for the cost of one of the City’s Parking Referees and some administrative costs (in Treasury, Customer Service and the City Attorney’s office).

The Council will also consider whether to approve a 6-month extension of the existing installment purchase agreement with the Bank of Ann Arbor for 350 S. Fifth Ave. (the Old Y lot).  This extension would allow the City to complete all necessary steps toward selling this parcel.


There are always other items on the Agenda that might interest you.  Council committee assignments and appointments will be made on Monday, December 2.  At that same meeting, a calendar for all 2014 Council meetings will be approved, and the Council rules will be approved.

The City's Fiscal 2013 audit is now available.  So is the DDA’s annual report.

I continue to track the City Council’s priorities on each agenda.  By my count, this agenda includes 15 action items – 13 administrative acts, 1 item that addresses economic development, and 1 that deals with infrastructure, albeit rather peripherally.

On the Calendar

 The Planning Commission will meet at 7 pm on Tuesday, December 3rd in Council Chambers.  The first item on the agenda will be continued discussion of revisions to D1 / D2 zoning. 
Also on the agenda is the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP).  The Planning Commission has the ability to add or remove any projects from the CIP; the Council has the ability to add or remove any funding for projects in the CIP during the budget process. 
On Wednesday, December 4 at 6:30 pm, the public is invited to a presentation of results of the Allen Creek Berm Opening Feasibility Study. The city staff and consultant team will share the preferred option to reduce the potential for flooding caused by the berm, or railroad embankment, between Depot Street and the Huron River, near the mouth of Allen Creek. The completed study evaluated options to allow floodwater from heavy rain events to discharge more efficiently into the river, thereby reducing frequency and severity of flooding in the area. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 4, 6:30–7:30 p.m. in the Larcom City Hall basement conference room, 301 E. Huron St.
Also on December 4 at 7 pm, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is inviting residents to a meeting from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Ann Arbor Community Center, 625 N. Main St., to continue exploring possible locations and designs for a downtown Ann Arbor station for the north-south WALLY commuter rail service..
The City Council will hold its annual retreat to discuss the City’s 2014/15 budget on December 9th from 4 – 11 pm.  Details about this meeting will follow.
MDOT will host an open house from 3:30-7 p.m. Dec. 12 at Northfield Township Hall, 8350 Main St. to discuss adding peak-hour lanes to US 23, with formal presentations at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
This public meeting is intended to provide information for commuters, area residents, and corridor stakeholders and an opportunity for them to learn about and provide input on the project components, including the active traffic management system. This is the first of several public meetings to be held prior to the start of construction in 2016.

On the Horizon

Working with the VA Hospital and the Vets Park Neighborhood Association, the City will participate in a "Gifts in Gratitude" holiday gifts drive.  Collection bins will be located at Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena through Jan. 3, 2013 to collect new clothing and other donations for local veterans.  For a list of donation needs, call 734.794.6230, extension 42510.


What am I reading?

I'm still reading Completing Our Streets: The Transition to Safe and Inclusive Transportation Networks by Barbara McCann.  

I learned a while ago that I cannot ask the right questions or understand the answers if I don't learn all I can about an issue.  So my reading ranges from organizational studies through storm water management to books and articles on planning, affordable housing, pedestrian safety and mass transit.

But this time of year, I'm also reading about food, and instructions for all the gifts I still have to make.  There is never enough time or love.